Richardson Highway’s McCallum Creek was once home to a busy settlement
McCallum Creek is a tributary of Phelan Creek, which in turn flows into the Delta River. (Several early guidebooks confused Phelan Creek with the Delta River.) Located about 160 miles southeast of Fairbanks along what used to be the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail (now the Richardson Highway), in the early 1900s the area hosted both a busy roadhouse and a Washington-Alaska Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS) telegraph station.
Mail carriers and goldseekers blazed a winter trail from Gakona to Fairbanks soon after gold was discovered in the Tanana Valley in 1902, and the Alaska Road Commission (ARC) began improving that trail in 1905. In the summer of 1905 a Mrs. McCallum began operating a roadhouse out of a small single-story log cabin on the east bank of Phelan Creek, just downstream from McCallum Creek.
The winter-only trail ran down the frozen Phelen Creek, and McCallum’s Roadhouse was on a small point jutting into the creek bed. Under calm conditions it was easily visible to trail users. At night a large lantern hung outside the door to welcome travelers.
However, Phelen Creek was one of the most treacherous sections of the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail. It was just north of Isabel pass, and deep snows were normal. The creek was also prone to overflow, making travel difficult. In addition, the narrow valley funneled wind from the Gulkana Glacier, often pushing blizzards before it. Ken Marsh, in his book, The Trail: The Story of the Historic Valdez-Fairbanks Trail, writes that the roadhouse, built near the exposed creek bed, was sometimes buried by snow drifts with only its stovepipe showing.
Charlie Yost took over the roadhouse in the winter of 1906-07. He built a two-story log building next to the old structure. Even it was often buried to its eaves by snow.
Yost operated the roadhouse for several years, and after he moved on it continued to be called Yost’s. Turnover of roadhouse operators was rapid throughout its short existence.
The winter of 1912-13 was severe, and 12 people died along Phelan Creek trying to find Yost’s. To rectify this problem the Army Signal Corps stretched a fence made of several strands of wire across the creek. Travelers lost in a blizzard would be stopped by the fence before blundering past the roadhouse. Aided by the sound of a 150-pound bell atop a post near the roadhouse that would ring in the wind, travelers could follow the fence and the sound of the bell to safety.
Yost’s Roadhouse only lasted until the mid 1910s. Severe flooding forced the abandonment of the roadhouse in 1916, although the buildings continued to be used seasonally by hunters. The roadhouse was in an exposed area, and according to Walter Phillips’ book, Roadhouses of the Richardson Highway, nothing remains of it.
However, 3/10 mile upstream are the remains of McCallum telegraph station. About a 1/4 mile northwest of the McCallum Creek Bridge on the Richardson Highway, the telegraph station ruins lie on a bypassed curve of the highway.
The station was established in 1907 by the Army signal Corps, and consisted of a two-story log telegraph office/residence, a barn, large cache, and several smaller structures. Made redundant by wireless telegraphy (radio) in 1925, the station closed. The facilities were then transferred to the ARC before eventually being abandoned.
The only surviving structure is the barn, shown in the drawing. The approximately 10-foot by 20-foot metal-roofed log barn was converted into a garage, probably by the ARC, before falling into disuse. Except for a few tires and scraps of metal scattered along the old section of road, the building, which is slowly collapsing into the willows, is the last vestige of a once busy settlement.
- Roadhouses of the Richardson Highway, the first quarter century, 1898 to 1923. Walter Phillips. Alaska Historical Commission. 1984
- Roadhouses of the Richardson Highway II. Walter Phillips. Alaska Historical Commission. 1985
- The Trail, the Story of the Historic Valdez-Fairbanks Trail. Kenneth Marsh. Trapper Creek Museum. 2008.